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Since first rising to fame as a fan-favorite on season seven of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and then becoming the show’s “All-Stars 3” winner, drag queen Trixie Mattel has done anything but slow down. In fact, between starting her own makeup line, co-starring in the online show “UNHhhh,” releasing a documentary and gearing up to debut her third studio album, it would be fair to call her a drag powerhouse.
Mattel is undeniably a star, and now local fans can see a little bit of that star power in action on her latest “Now With Moving Parts” tour when it comes to Detroit. Mattel found time between performances to chat with Between The Lines in advance of the show. She talked about her time on “All-Stars,” what it means to make money off of the name “Trixie,” and that audiences should prepare for “a lot of moving parts” — literally and figuratively.
“The show has a lot of things going on — like video, costume changes, wig changes, three different instruments,” Mattel said. “But it’s also going to have parts that are poignant and moving.”
On tour since the spring, Parts has played to stellar reviews and enthusiastic crowds all across the country.
“We have 10 more dates left and that will cap us at like 70 North American dates,” Mattel said. “I’m going to be very tearful to retire a lot of those songs and jokes. I’m already recording the next album. I’m already knee-deep in what will be next year’s tour. … It takes a lot of time to figure out what’s not funny.”
A Reality TV Star is (Re-)Born
When TV audiences first took notice of Mattel on “Drag Race” she was eliminated in episode four, brought back in episode eight and sent home for good in episode 10. Then, last year, she was approached about doing “All-Stars 3.”
“When I got the call it was funny, because I thought I had blocked that number,” Mattel said. “No, I’m just kidding. I was excited. I had just watched Katya do ‘All-Stars 2’ and I was jelly — that’s what the kids call jealous. I was jelly. … Then my second reaction was that all the sphincters in my body clenched. And there are a lot more sphincters in the body than people talk about.”
Unfortunately, even after agreeing to do the show, Mattel wasn’t able to relax any sphincters just yet.
“On ‘All-Stars’ a lot of people are looking for a resurgence in their career,” Mattel explained. “They’re looking to put their face out there again. But for me, with the albums I had done and the TV series and YouTube series I had appeared on, it was like I had the pressure of living up to the real-life Trixie. I just felt that pressure right away.”
Once the show started filming, the scrutiny was intense. Mattel said that the normally stressful experience of appearing on the show was heightened because each contestant had prior experience.
“On a normal season of ‘Drag Race’ if you sort of just stand in the light and remember your lines you can stay for a while,” Mattel said. “But on ‘All-Stars,’ everyone is famous, confident and rich. You have to bring it. The judges are like, ‘Well, when you were doing handstand kicks we saw one of your bobby pins.’ They have to judge very severely.”
‘I came from nothing’
If anyone was used to being judged, though, it was Mattel. Born Brian Michael Firkus, Mattel grew up in rural Wisconsin, where she often felt out of place. Her stepfather was, she says, a difficult man.
“He used to call me a ‘Trixie’ when I was too feminine or emotional,” Mattel recalled. “But I took back the night. Now I make money off that name. It used to have a much darker meaning. Now it’s my favorite word. If you Google ‘Trixie’ I’m probably the Trixie that comes up. So, hopefully, I reassigned that name for everyone.”
Still, not all was bad in Wisconsin. With not much else to do to pass the time, Mattel discovered music at 13.
“My brother wanted to play guitar like Blink 182 and then he quit right away,” Mattel said. “So I picked it up. It came very naturally to me. It was the first thing I discovered that I did for myself and I really liked it.”
Another pleasure of Mattel’s was listening to Dolly Parton, whose style she would frequently emulate before developing that classic “Trixie” style. She said that Parton embodied “the crossroads of great musicianship and comedy and beauty.”
“To me, what I do with drag I feel is similar. It’s important for me to be a good musician; it’s important to me to be funny; it’s important for me to look great. Dolly talks about how she doesn’t mind Dolly Parton jokes because no one can tell Dolly Parton jokes better than her. She has this effervescent gift, but she is legitimately an icon,” Mattel said. “She has a lot of philosophies that really matter to me.
“I came from nothing,” Mattel continued. “I like that she came from nothing and she had this idea of what beauty was. With Trixie, I have this fixation on this extreme beauty ideal and celebrating that and making fun of that at the same time. And Dolly Parton, with her looks, she makes fun of conventional beauty but also celebrates it.”
Like her idol, Mattel has started to build a career in country and folk music. And she’s perhaps the first drag queen to do so successfully. She said that the secret to success has been paying nad producing everything herself, “right down to rhinestoning the costumes on the cover of the album.”
“The album ‘Two Birds’ came out a year-and-a-half ago and people loved it and it sold well and charted high and made all this money. I was stunned,” she said. “I think with comedy and music people respond to a certain amount of authenticity. And I think in my stand-up and my music there is equal parts polish and equally part personal fingerprint on it. A lot of people who listen to my music don’t consider themselves country music or folks music fans but they like Trixie because they like storytelling with a sense of humor.”
When asked how she felt about using “Drag Race” as a springboard to launch her true passions, she again referenced authenticity and a little business savvy.
“After being on ‘Drag Race’ you’re an instant star,” she said. “But more than that, you’re an in-this-instant star. I always say the real ‘Drag Race’ is after ‘Drag Race.’ Show business is 51 percent business and 49 percent art.”
The key to success, Mattel said, is individuality.
“I think it’s a lot about staying in your own lane but also it’s about creating a lane that no one else can go into. If you want Latrice Royale there’s not really a second phone call. That’s who you have to call,” she said. “… And if you want a Barbie doll drag queen doing comedy and singing folk songs, I’m the only one. You have to call me – or Dolly Parton.”